- Jeremy Osner
I'm wondering how you all feel about big restaurants.
I've noticed a lot of people writing about USqC,
Gramercy Tavern, Gotham -- When I go into a big dining
room it usually makes me uncomfortable. I ate at USqC
recently and I had a hard time concentrating on the
I greatly prefer to eat at a small restaurant, say
Savoy or La Luncheonette. (This same thing applies to
"ethnic" cuisines: I felt nicer eating at the old
Jackson Diner than the new one, though I'm planning to
give the new location some time to get their kinks
straightened out. And I felt pretty miniscule at Green
Fields.) Some places manage to make a large dining room
feel small, like Jhupdi/Vatan, but this is in my
experience pretty rare. (And Jhupdi/Vatan doesn't have
_that_ big a dining room anyhow.)
Anyway, if I were recommending a restaurant I would
generally go with the smaller ones over the larger.
What is it about big restaurants that makes you feel
uncomfortable ? For me, the most important thing is
the food. Atmosphere, service, noise level, and size
do play a part in the dining experience, but my main
focus is the food. If one of those other parts is so
out of whack as to intrude with the food, then that's
Can you tell what exactly happened around you at your
dinner at Union Sq. Cafe to take your concentration
off the food ? Obviously, you should go to places
where you feel comfortable in ; however, think of what
wonderful food you may miss because of your discomfort
in going to a large restaurant. I do hope you find
some way to overcome this.
re: Gary Cheong
No, I can't tell just what it was at USqC that kept me
from concentrating on the food -- I don't exactly know.
I guess I react more strongly than you to the non-food
elements of the dining experience; I think for me, the
food is like 60 or 70% of what I remember about the
restaurant. And in the case of Union Square, the food
was much less, perhaps 30% of what I remembered,
because I had such a negative reaction to the place.
(The service was good though.)
I mean, a restaurant's food has to be good for me to
like the restaurant; but I am much more able to
appreciate the good food and to remember it, if I am in
a comfortable space and feel relaxed. At Union Square I
felt uncomfortable and tense, and I associated that
with the bigness of the space, but I cannot explain
re: Gary Cheong
Well, I'm just trying to think about that... The first
one that comes to mind is (much larger) Green Fields,
where yes, I had a similar reaction, allowing for the
fact that the atmosphere there is very different. I
can't think of any others right off the top of my head.
I guess this calls for further experimentation -- my
room for experimentation is limited by my budget, which
does not allow for dining out at expensive restaurants
Next time I get a chance to dine out at a large
expensive restaurant, I will pay attention to how the
space is affecting me, and will report back.
re: Jeremy Osner
Have you ever tried Le Gigot in the Village on Cornelia
St? 12 or so tables, small bar. I think you'd love it.
I sure did last Saturday night. Wonderful cozy
atmosphere, and terrific french home-cooking. Loved
everything we had, in order of pref: the ginger creme
brulee; lamb shank with roasted rutabega, potatoes,
aspargus; roasted chicken with potato gratin.
I'm much more affected by how much room *I* have than the size of the room. When I feel cramped, I'm not happy, so the nice spacing at Gramercy Tavern make the place very non-oppressive to me.
I'm wondering if you might be reacting to the noise levels of many big places. What's the use of going out with friends to Mesa Grill when you can't hear them?
I'm somewhat, if not entirely, sympathetic. It sounds
as though there are elements of reality and elements
of perception in your analysis of the places that you
identify as large restaurants. Gramercy Tavern is
arguably a large restaurant, but the individual dining
rooms are fairly small--about 10 tables in each. It is
possible to have a small restaurant experience by
sitting upstairs at Union Square Cafe (although I
prefer downstairs). Perhaps the difficulty you had in
concentrating on the food at Union Square Cafe had to
do with the fact that the food is not particularly
interesting. Certainly, neither of those places is
large compared to Green Fields or Master Grill
International, where you're talking upwards of 1000
It seems to me that the amount of space is less
important than the way the space is utilized.
The best argument for a small restaurant, in my
opinion, is that the kitchen can prepare more
sophisticated cuisine. This has always been the secret
at Lespinasse (74 seats) and Les Celebrites (even
fewer). Chefs at larger restaurants have told me that
they envy the smaller places because they can lavish
so much attention on each dish.